Propagating a culture of resistance
Israel’s reluctance to acquiesce for peace is rooted in its history
Israel has continuously been spurred forward by an urgency of self-defence, one built on a perception of an ever constant threat to its existence as a state. This urgency is promoted to the international community as Israel projects itself as a bastion of freedom and democracy in the depth of an otherwise unrefined and dark part of the world.
This affinity to resistance within Israeli, and even pre-Israeli, politics is an often overshadowed one, leaving an important piece to understanding the Israeli-Arab conflict and its possible resolution untouched.
The history of Israel is very much built on a notion of resistance, propelled almost entirely by the belief that Israel’s right to exist is consistently under threat.
This threat definitely held weight during the stages of Mandate Palestine starting in 1920, and in its early history. One would be far removed from historical fact if they fail to recognize the contentious relationship between British governing bodies and Zionist parties and militias during mandate times. At the core of this tension was Zionists political parties and militias, even with the exponential growth of Jewish settlements, perception that the mandate government was hampering the growth and establishment of a Jewish state, especially in the face of rising anti-Semitism in Europe before and during WW2. This, coupled with an increasing armed Arab resistance towards Jewish settlers in response to the suggested UN partition plan, which proposed an unequal distribution of land and water resources, as well as access to key ports, saw the birth of the Zionist resistance movement also known as the Jewish insurgency.
This insurgency strongly continued until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, where more than 300 British soldiers were killed, 91 of them in the bombing of the King David Hotel which is to this day considered a terrorist attack by the UK. Starting from 1947 however this hostility was directed towards their Arab neighbours in Palestine, a hostility reciprocated as Arabs and Palestinians alike continued their refusal of proposed UN partition plan.
This culminated in 1948, where, in retaliation to Israel’s declaration of independence, surrounding Arab countries launched a coordinated attack in an attempt to thwart the loss of Palestinian land as per UN resolution 181, which was never agreed upon by the Arab political body. The military operation failed drastically as the Arab armies, most of which only recently gained independence, were underequipped and undertrained, as opposed to their Israeli counterparts who were better financed even as a fledgling state.
The cost of the humiliating loss of the Arab states was ultimately paid by Palestinians. Israel capitalized on the pretext of war to expel 80% of the Palestinian population and seize over 4 million acres of land. This allowed the new state to establish a comfortable territorial superiority, while simultaneously erasing any chance for Palestine to be recognized as a state post British mandate.
This has become known as “Al Naqba”, or the catastrophe, which is commemorated every year by Palestinians across the world in conjunction with Israel’s Independence Day.
With Israel’s overwhelming victory, any threat to its existence was extinguished. It had proved to be militaristically more capable and had the backing of the international community.
Several Arab-Israeli wars followed in 1956, 1967, and 1973, all catastrophic for the Arab states, and all seeing Israel continue to grow in size and the creation of more Palestinian refugees. The fact that Arab countries were predominantly trained and armed by the Soviets throughout the cold war continued to re-enforce Israel’s image as a bastion of freedom within the otherwise red Middle East.
All these events have helped solidify a strong affinity to resistance and self-defence within the Israeli political system and psyche, and the two have become near inseparable. Acts of resistance in Israel are continuously commemorated, including the King David hotel bombing, and the right to self-defence remains the country’s way of safeguarding its right of existence.
Today however, Israel stands as the strongest power in the region both economically and militarily. It benefits from an influx of foreign aid, possesses nuclear capabilities (the only in the region), and is an exporter of armaments to regional partners such as Turkey and Azerbaijan.
With its Arab neighbours, Israel has peace accords with Egypt and Jordan, the most militaristically capable, with Egypt even helping enforce a blockade on the Gaza strip. Evidence has also regularly surfaced of trade deals with Arab gulf countries. Syria, the most outspoken of its neighbours has not engaged in any military confrontation since their defeat in the war of 1973 and Israel continues to occupy the Golan Heights, a mountain range in Syria. Iran, the largest military threat, is geographically distant, and is politically trying to regain its place on the global theater, casting doubts on its willingness to mobalise any sort of campaign. Any fighting that may ensue will, as in the past, be done through the Lebanese Hezbollah, a militia with a comparatively small force between 1 and 10 thousand strong.
Arab states have also previously agreed to conditions of peace deal with Israel based on 1967 pre-war borders, an agreement that provides Israel with much greater territorial access than even the original UN partition plan.It’s true that Arab rhetoric remains outwardly aggressive, even if far away from any actions or capabilities. Palestinian resistance has also continued to resort to violent means from time to time especially in the Gaza Strip. But even the new and peaceful BDS movement launched by the recognized Palestinian Authority which seeks to politically lobby governments (local and national) individuals and private corporations to boycott, divest, and impose sanctions on Israel for its continued occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza strip has faced continuous and successful pressure and has been labeled as a threat to Israel’s existence.
Leaning on the same rhetoric of a threat to Israel’s right to existence, the Israeli lobby has succeeded to push for legislation to ban BDS in Canada and significantly limit its potential effectiveness, in the US where student bodies promoting BDS are under pressure, and the UK where local government are banned from making BDS related decisions.
With no military threat to Israel’s right to exist, and terrorist activity being a direct reaction the Israel’s 40 years of occupation, it’s hard not to question Israel’s intentions of propagating a culture of resistance. The non military threat of BDS merely seeks to put pressure on the Israeli government with the goal of reinstating meaningful peace negotiations, hardly equitable to the perception of threat perpetuated in the international community. Yet, these threats are continuously touted to justify the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, denying Palestinians the right of return, and the expansion of settlements, all blatant violations of international law, something reinforced by the latest UN resolution.It is no question that the above situation is not a sustainable one. The idea that Palestinians will acquiesce to the status quo is simply implausible, and sooner or later the international community will come to identify the invalidity of Israeli claims made under threat of existence. This is what makes the US abstaining from vetoing the last UN resolution significant, as well as the diversity of the countries that had put the bid forward in the first place. The question remains though, with Israel’s wager continuing to become an unfavourable one, how long will it be until the Israeli people realize that peace is the only way forward, and vote for a government that represents that view as opposed to that of rebellious resistance?
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